COVID-19 may be accelerating 5G takeup and consumer embrace of the new technology, say Ericsson researchers.
Patrik Cerwall, editor of the Ericsson Mobility Report, says it has raised its year-end 5G subs forecast because of the bullish growth in the first quarter, especially in China.
Speaking in a company online forum, Cerwall said that despite the slowdown in retail in most markets, the previous target of 100 million would be eclipsed.
He didn't reveal the new number, but with two China operators alone reaching 48 million 5G subs in the first quarter, it is likely that the full-year total will be well north of 100 million.
Cerwall said public perception of networks following the worldwide lockdowns of the past two months had improved.
"We see that the networks are not strained and the perception towards them is positive," he said.
Even in places like Brazil and India, where broadband networks are struggling with heavy work-from-home traffic, two-thirds of consumers say networks are performing at the same level or better compared to before the outbreak.
Jasmeet Singh Sethi, head of Ericsson ConsumerLab, said a survey of mobile consumers in 11 countries had found that 5G conspiracy theories had had no impact on sentiment. Instead it was likely the coronavirus had probably increased support for it.
"We still see about six in ten globally are positive about 5G and especially the role 5G could have played during the health crisis."
About 40% said they thought 5G should have been accelerated to help combat the disease through use of immersive technologies, robotics, remote-controlled equipment or other devices that would have helped safeguard frontline workers.
The survey had showed that as a result of the virus outbreak consumers had put greater value on robust ICT technologies, he said.
Even though 5G is still new in many markets, "we still have about 20% of consumers saying they would upgrade to 5G plan in order to prepare better for a future crisis," Sethi said.
He said consumer sentiment was also showing a longer-term impact "because of the emphasis on resilient connectivity. Nearly 70% of consumers were saying that connectivity and especially resilient connectivity will be critical not just during this crisis but in future crises as well."
The survey also showed a big swing in attitudes toward telemedicine and telehealth.
"About six in ten believe online consultations will be more popular than physical visits to the doctor because they don't want to be waiting in an environment which is prone to infections."
People were also much more amenable to "contactless" commerce, such as use of delivery drones or autonomous vehicles to complete transactions or orders.
"That is going to push the technology and maybe send autonomous technology forward."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading